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Like an NFL football team with the true grit to bounce back from a regrettable loss, Winnebago Industries Inc. has in many ways shown the world and the rest of the RV industry what it takes to shake off the bleak days of the Great Recession and - stretching that sports analogy - reset its gameplan, introduce a new playbook and redirect its energies toward the next game or, perhaps, the playoffs.
That drive to survive and redefine the company's entire approach to the business world, in a nutshell, is why RVBusiness has named 55-year-old, Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago as "RVB's Newsmaker of the Year for 2013."
RVB's staff chose Winnebago over an array of other contenders that generated plenty of headlines in 2013 - Camping World Inc., the nation's largest RV retailer; Thor Industries Inc., America's highest volume RV builder; and Fleetwood RV, now part of Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc.'s Allied Recreation Group.
So, why, one might argue, pick Winnebago over other RV builders when it has clearly benefited from the same rising tides that have lifted other manufacturers?
Because the publicly held RV builder, located in the flatlands of northern Iowa about an hour south of Minneapolis - far from the industry's Indiana RV-building hub - has to a great extent overachieved by "reinventing" itself as it strives to become more of sales-driven company versus a manufacturing-centric firm. From all we can tell, it's largely a response to challenges posed by a revamped senior management team led for the past three years by Chairman, CEO and President Randy Potts, a 30-year Winnebago veteran, and more recently by Scott Degnan, a former Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. exec who now serves as vice president of sales and product management.
And because the rebirth of Winnebago - the nation's fourth largest RV builder and a company billing itself as "The Most Recognized Name in Motor Homes" - is in many ways emblematic of the entire industry's ongoing recovery.
Here's a few highlights extracted from the pages of the January/February issue of RVBusiness:
The Employment Picture: Winnebago's employment roster has gone from a pre-recessionary high of 4,000 down to 1,500 at its low point and now back up to an austere headcount of about 2,790.
Expanding Retail Sales: Winnebago posted an industry-best 63.8% rate of growth for retail sales of all RV's combined from 2011 through the first 10 months of 2013, reports Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Financial Performance: The Iowa firm finished its 2013 fiscal year Aug. 31 with revenues of $803.2 million, a 38.1% gain over $581.7 in fiscal 2012, and operating income of $44.4 million, a 366.1% increase from $9.5 million in fiscal 2012. And it again posted impressive numbers in Q1 of 2014, ended Nov. 30.
National Press Coverage: The Iowa RV manufacturer became somewhat of a media darling over the past year with coverage in everything from CNBC's "Comeback Companies" to ABC News with Diane Sawyer's "Made in America" plus a live interview with Randy Potts from New York on "CBS This Morning."
Three Key Media Accolades: The company drew praise for its performance on a national scale with its selection this fall to Barron's 400 Index and its listing in Fortune magazine's "100 Fastest Growing Companies" and Chief Executive magazine's "Mid-Market Elite."
Also tipping the scales in Winnebago's favor is a new brand-licensing program, an award-winning first entry into the commercial vehicle arena and the development of an array of new motorhomes, including the Travato Class B and Trend/Viva! Class C assembled on Chrysler's Ram ProMaster van chassis, an Americanized version of Europe's popular Fiat Ducato platform.
But Potts and Degnan make it clear in the current issue of RVBusiness that Winnebago is also keeping an eye on a variety of mainstream product categories, including gas-fueled Class A motorhomes. In fact, the industry can expect the next significant new Winnebago product debut by spring.
"All I can tell you is that we'll be launching the next big splash to our dealers during our next Dealer Days event, which is the middle of April just before Easter," said Degnan, "and it's just really going to be cool."
By Brian Dukes
Living the RV lifestyle - taking to the open road in a motor home - may not be for everyone.
But it's a trend that's growing, thanks to large numbers of people looking to untether themselves from their homes and seek adventures. And it's a lifestyle that's not just for retirees. The typical RV owner is 48 years old, with the largest gains in ownership falling to those ages 35 to 54, according to a 2011 report about RV usage from the University of Michigan.
"I mean, really, once your kids are grown and gone, do you really use all those rooms?" said Kitty Hornung, 64, who has been living the RV lifestyle for 16 years with her husband, Bill. "Besides, people are downsizing today, anyway."
Last year, the number of recreational vehicle-owning households numbered 8.9 million, a jump of 1 million from 2005, the survey said. About 8.5 percent of U.S. households own RVs.
The statistics don't surprise Tom Dreyer, who manages the Fayetteville KOA RV campsite at the Wade exit of Interstate 95.
"More and more, folks just like to get away from it all," Dreyer said. "They're looking for a life change, a new adventure."
At the Fayetteville KOA site, part of a national chain of RV parks, there's a unique mix of RV owners and renters, including about 50 full-time residents. A large number of the residents are military personnel, either active duty or retired.
The following RV owners at the Fayetteville KOA have abandoned a life of stationary living in exchange for a more transient existence. Their reasons for the change are varied, but they all agree their new lifestyle took quite an adjustment.
For James "Jimmie" Schalla Jr., 56, and his wife, Cindy, 55, the biggest adjustment was getting used to not looking at a calendar.
"We really don't know what day it is because we don't look at a calendar very much anymore," Jimmie Schalla said.
Schalla was a consummate clock-watcher during his 22 years as a warrant officer and mechanic with Army aviation. After retiring from the military, Schalla worked as a military contractor for 14 years. That's when he bought his first RV - "a van on steroids" - and began using it as his work vehicle.
In 2005, the Schallas began planning to become full-time RVers, which meant selling their home and figuring out what to do with all of their stuff. Their plan got a large nudge when Jimmie Schalla lost his job to corporate layoffs.
Rather than be discouraged, Schalla was emboldened. In 2007, the couple began renting their former Fayetteville town house and reduced their worldly possessions to two storage pods - other than what's inside their 39-foot Newmar Dutch Star motor home.
"Life's too short; there's just so much to see," Jimmie Schalla said. "I remember thinking, 'I wish I had done this sooner.' "
The couple have traveled to numerous East Coast destinations, visiting different vineyards in the Carolinas, as well as Disney World.
At the Fayetteville KOA, Schalla has earned the nickname the "Fire Pit King" from his fellow residents, as he often invites others to join him around a friendly campfire.
The key to a successful RV lifestyle, Schalla said, is having a solid foundation with whomever you're sharing the experience.
"You've got to really enjoy spending time with your spouse," Jimmie Schalla said. "Some couples may love each other but not like spending a lot of time with each other. Well, you don't have that option if you do this. You're in close quarters all the time."
When the Walkers and their 30-foot Jayco travel trailer moved to the Fayetteville KOA in May, Cindy Walker, 46, learned she would have to be creative when it came to making the most of their space.
The trailer has two bedrooms. But there's not much storage space. Plus, the Walkers home school their 12-year-old son, Charles, making trailer living a little cramped.
"Storage space is very important, but since I'm a bit claustrophobic, I had to be inventive with making space," Walker said.
She converted a shower into a bookshelf in the bathroom, for example.
"You find ways to be comfortable because you love this life," she said.
Cindy and Charlie, 60, used to live in Asheboro. Charlie worked as a housing contractor until the bubble burst, leaving him unemployed. The couple moved to Fayetteville in November for work.
"We lost the home, but we kept the camper," Walker said.
Walker said she's more social than she's ever been, having made lots of friends at the Fayetteville KOA. She also lost 20 pounds because she's walking more and biking with her new friends.
It's a good skill to have as the RVers hopscotch all over the country. Soon, the Walkers will be on the move again.
"If you're an RVer, you have the itch to travel a lot," Walker said. "I know I'll cry when we leave, but they'll be good tears. Happy tears."
Bill, 61, and Kitty Hornung, 64, could be considered professional RVers. The couple are entering their 16th year in the RV lifestyle and their ninth year as work campers. They're RV enthusiasts who move from campsite to campsite and work odd jobs at the sites to help defray their living expenses. In some cases, the work will cover the expenses entirely.
"We were smart," Kitty Hornung said. "We sold our house and learned how to live within our means."
"Yeah, you figure out the difference between wants and needs real fast," Bill Hornung said.
The pair, who have been married for 40 years, are work campers at the Fayetteville KOA, where they'll stay through spring before hitting the road again. The pair spend, on average, six months at each RV campsite, usually in more northern locales during the summer, and then reversing that trend for the winter.
"I'm peaceful and satisfied with life," Bill Hornung said. "It's a whole new world every time we move. We're not in a rush. We just look at it like we're camping all the time, and there's always tomorrow."
They use the "Yellow System," the nickname for working within the KOA system of campsites known for its yellow employee uniforms and corporate colors.
They rarely return to the same campsite, which means there are more states they've been in than haven't.
In their pre-RV lives in Florida, Bill worked as an automotive equipment mechanic, and Kitty was a dog grooming instructor. When Bill's former boss sold the business while Bill was on vacation, the couple decided to stay on vacation and never look back.
"You learn how to live in 400 square feet really quick," Kitty said.
The pair said they sold their old home and sold or donated whatever wouldn't fit into their new one, a 36-foot Carriage Extreme 5.
While the couple have embraced their life on the road, there are a few things they miss. Kitty misses Christmas decorations. She and Bill also miss that sense of uniqueness small towns used to have - something they've seen disappear across the country over the last several years.
"A lot of cities and towns can look alike; they're losing their character to chain stores and strip malls," Kitty said. "I want to see places where time has stood still."
May 11, 2012 by RV Business
U.S. consumer sentiment rose to its highest level in more than four years in early May as Americans remained upbeat about the job market, a survey released on Friday showed.
Reuters reported that separate data earlier in the day showed U.S. producer prices unexpectedly fell in April as energy costs dropped by the most in six months, a sign of easing inflation pressures that could give the Federal Reserve more room to help the economy should growth weaken.
The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary May reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment improved to 77.8 from 76.4 in April, topping forecasts for a small decline to 76.2.
It was the highest level since January 2008.
Despite the recent slowdown in job growth, nearly twice as many consumers reported hearing about new job gains than said they had heard about recent job losses, the survey said.
Even so, consumers were only slightly more optimistic about declines in the unemployment rate than they were a year ago, with only one in four expecting it to fall in the year ahead.
However, economists polled by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, expect the U.S. unemployment rate to average 8.1% this year, and to fall to 7.7% next year.
Employers cut back on hiring in April and March after an acceleration at the start of the year. April's unemployment rate eased to 8.1% as more people dropped out of the work force.
In a potential harbinger of increased spending, consumers' buying plans for vehicles and durable goods improved at the beginning of the month, with 65% saying buying conditions were favorable, the highest level in more than a year.
"Households are feeling more comfortable. It's pretty good news for consumer spending," said Gus Faucher, senior macroeconomist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.
March 29, 2012 by RV Business
Goshen, Ind.-based towable builder Keystone RV Co. announced today (March 29) the addition of Bella Vista RV Centre as its newest Vantage travel trailer dealer, according to a news release. Located in Hawkestone, Ontario, Bella Vista RV Centre is one of Canada's largest full-line dealerships. "We are thrilled to have Bella Vista join the Vantage team," says Troy Nusbaum, Vantage product manager. "Bella Vista's professionalism and excellence in customer care make them a perfect fit for the new Vantage." Bruno Tombari Jr. (shown in photo), Bella Vista general manager and co-owner, feels that the Keystone Vantage is ideally suited to his market. "Vantage combines timeless beauty with modern technology to create a new travel trailer unlike anything on the market today," he said. "Our customers will love the sleek, clean exterior design and the contemporary interior styling." He added, "Our staff was excited to see the first Vantage arrive on our lot. We believe it will appeal to both families and couples and serve as a show stopper at our dealership." The lightweight Vantage was unveiled at last year's Elkhart County RV Open House, sporting a distinctive exterior design and a eurostyle interior.
January 5, 2012 by RV Business
Bella Vista RV Centre Inc., Hawkestone, Ontario, has joined the Entegra Coach Inc. network of dealerships, according to a press release.
In making the announcement, Jim Jacobs, president of Middlebury, Ind.-based Entegra Coach, said that Bella Vista RV has been authorized to sell all three of the builder's diesel-powered Class A motorhome lines ? Aspire, Anthem and Cornerstone.
"We are proud to welcome Bella Vista RV to the Entegra Coach team," Jacobs said. "They operate with a dedicated commitment to customer satisfaction and market area performance, and we believe they will be a great asset to our organization."
Bella Vista RV was founded in 2007 and is one of the leading motorhome dealerships in the Toronto metropolitan area. The family owned business has a state-of-the-art showroom and service facility and focuses on quality and value, with an emphasis on customer service.
"We are looking forward to working together with Entegra Coach because of their commitment to building quality products and customer satisfaction," said Bruno Tombari Jr., spokesman for the dealership. "They are a division of Jayco Inc., one of the most respected names in the RV business. We're confident that Entegra Coach is the kind of business relationship that helps make our enterprise successful."
December 14, 2011 by RV Business ·
Newmar Corp., a manufacturer of Class A motorhomes and fifth-wheels, has expanded its dealer base in Canada with the addition of Bella Vista RV Centre in Hawkestone, Ontario.
"The Newmar sales and management team is happy to have Bella Vista RV Centre join its dealer network," said John Sammut, Newmar vice president of sales and marketing, in a press release. "Bella Vista shares our goals in terms of quality, value, and customer service. They run an excellent dealership in Canada and we are looking forward to a profitable relationship with them in the Ontario market."
Bella Vista will sell Newmar's gas motorhome products, which include the new Bay Star Sport, Bay Star and Canyon Star brands.
"Bella Vista has a very clean quality facility in a quality location with a modern showroom and service bays," said Doug Drover, sales account manager for Nappanee, Ind.-based Newmar. "I think Bella Vista is an excellent up and coming motorhome dealer in the province of Ontario and we are excited to grow with them in the future."
Bella Vista is a relatively new dealership that was established in 2007 serving the greater Toronto and southern Ontario market area. It is a family based business offering "good value with the emphasis on customer service," according to Newmar.